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Comments from Frankston, Reed, and Friends

Saturday, December 21, 2002

BobF at 3:02 AM [url]:

Cranking Along

Scrott Kirsner wrote about blogs in the Boston Globe last week: Sites to watch for news of what's next. It made me think about my writing and I wanted to post a quick response. Of course, it took a week and that's part of my dilemma. How can I write about complex concepts and ideas and also be short and concise? Too many ideas and too many distractions. I eventually managed to trim my response to only two pages and posted the essay as Cranking Along on Frankston.com.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

BobF at 12:30 PM [url]:

On Ensuring End-to-End

I give priority to writing in response to an immediate event or online discussion. Since the remarks stand-alone I'm posting them here on SATN but you can also look at the originals as posted.

This first note is in Response to Larry Lessig's: A threat to innovation on the web. It has been posted as http://www.interesting-people.org/archives/interesting-people/200212/msg00059.html

Also look at Glenn Fleishman's blog for related comments: http://blog.glennf.com/gmblog/archives/00000285.htm

(Update: David Weinberger has posted his comments.)

Perhaps I have a tendency to jump to solutions but it is important to ensure neutrality by aligning incentives. If the service providers had no other business than selling capacity then the incentive is to do it by whatever means are available and doing it very economically. For example, one can increase DSL capacity and distance before putting in new fiber.

One company cannot own both the service business and the transport business -- at least until there is effective competition. If there is an advantage to owning both that in itself is a reason not to and if there isn't an advantage that is a reason not to. So separating them is the only option.

The reason it is necessary to be explicit is that there is a tradition of creating additional regulations to fix previous problems which only creates new unintended consequences to be remedied.

With incentives aligned it is not only possible but necessary to remove nearly all of the current regulations and thus achieve a much higher degree of transparency.

The mention of Disney is a reminder that there is also the issue of ownership of the bits. In this case I side with them -- they should own the bits until the bits reach the buyer. ATT's ability to demand and get a percentage of AOL transaction revenue is something that would have been illegal in the days when we had a regulated monopoly. It is disappointing to see the FTC stand on the sidelines now that we have unregulated monopolies. This is a far simpler case than the one against Microsoft.

Why does legacy telecommunications industry get to keep their exemption from anti-trust now that there is no longer any excuse for it? We shouldn't have to ask for a remedy given that the violations of anti-trust (and free speech) are so blatant.

The good news is that the need for change is becoming too obvious to ignore. What we need to focus on is the mechanism and the awareness of the concept of connectivity -- the simple commodity out of which it really is trivial to create the current telecommunications services and it is possible to do far more.

The companies themselves already have a separation of the facilities (wire) operations from the business/service side -- there really are two distinct businesses. All we ask is recognition of the inherent conflict of interest and that it is not only unnecessary but dysfunctional and that we cannot afford it anymore.

Bob Frankston

The following comments have been posted in response to Karl Auerbach's comments.

Ah, QoS -- Karl is right in pointing out the slow first (please, first mile, we are not just there to be delivered to) mile is a rationalization for QoS. I agree with Karl's conclusion that we'll see lots of resistance to E2E. Asking for QoS is an example of just this kind of resistance so it is worth being explicit about how and why.

I've been doing a lot of writing on the topic but mainly in small discussions where I can be free to use a ranting style. Better to read Glenn's coherent comments in http://blog.glennf.com/gmblog/archives/00000285.htm and I know that David Weinberger is also working on comments.

Just as there is a danger that a call for openness can result in more regulation rather than transparency, QoS is part of the crypto-bellhead attempt to turn the Internet back into the PSTN with its oh-so-special treatment of voice streams.

The proper response to current first mile limits is, as I've pointed out, to recognize that it the problem is due to intransigence and conflict of interest. There is no technical reason for such limits. Sympathizing with those holding connectivity hostage (also known as the Stockholm Syndrome) seems responsible but is self-defeating.

QoS gives the middle the power to decide what traffic is more important than other traffic and it presumes that either one can examine the packets to determine whether they are VoIP packets or that the ends can flag which packets are important. The former is problematic because we are at the start of learning about VoIP and the initial implementations (mostly by Cisco as with ones I got from Vonage) are only experiments and there is lots of room for other approaches. Thus one can't identify the VoIP traffic without explicitly defining it as neoPSTN. Of course, responsible users should encrypt all their traffic and those connecting to offices probably use VPNs anyway. Even if the users are trusted to mark their own important packets (all of mine are important!) the VPNs will hide that information.

The good news is that QoS can't work even at the edges. And the better news is that there is no problem at the edges that can't be solved by adding some electronics on the wire. Of course, as long as effort is going into QoS we are getting no new capacity and just more arbitrary discrimination.

QoS, like "Broadband", only provides cover for the incumbents to stave off transparency.

Again, the very good news is that if we have providers (as I pointed out in my previous message) whose incentive it to provide incrementally more capacity we have the virtuous cycle of Moore's law (or what I call "just let me buy a little more at any point rather than having the Hobson's choice of 1.5mbps or 768kbps") and we have a decade of pent up technology ready to be deployed. As we've seen, latency melts away as capacity increases. At least as long as we don't to spend capacity trying to determining which packets require special treatment and buffering the traffic to create queues for sorting traffic.

Even with minimal DSL assumptions and only a few mbps on the copper path (again, there is no distance limit because regenerating the signal is easy) there is no problem with an 8kbps voice stream. But why not demand a pair of 64KBps streams or 6 channel audio?

I've been accused of being idealist but I am a pragmatist since I don't believe anything complicated can work. We are taught that there are no simple solutions to complex problems yet there is nothing simpler than the Internet.

Asking for more special treatment be it QoS, Broadband or Faux-Openness is seductive but it cedes the future to the incumbents. Instead we must focus on simplicity in the captive segment at the first mile. {See my previous message for separation comments}

PS: Is First Mile (or even Last) an acceptable idiom or do should I say Kilo?

Bob Frankston

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